We dream of a solar Bangladesh


We are a country of estimated 160 million people, the 9th largest country in the world by population, and one of the most populated countries. We have been enjoying sustained economic growth, which has resulted in increased demand for infrastructure to support continued growth in industry and in services, especially in telecommunications, transport, and energy.
We aspire to become a middle-income country by 2021. Our government is committed to Sustainable Development Agenda 2030. Central challenges of Bangladesh are industrialisation, management of urban growth, electrification, and climate change adaptation.
About 72% of the 165 million people of Bangladesh do have access to electricity. The government has set up a target to supply electricity for all by 2021. It is publicly known that Bangladesh is an energy poor country where per capita annual energy consumption is 371 kWh, though the energy production has been increased from 5823MW in 2009 to 13540MW in 2015.
It is estimated that 30% of country’s population, majority living in the rural areas, are out of electricity facilities. Bangladesh is still far away from generating a fair share of electricity from renewable sources.
While Bangladesh is planning to provide electricity to every citizen by 2020, this seems unrealistic to many. But, promotion of large scale renewable energy in the climate vulnerable communities could ensure sustainable energy coverage. It is crucial to identify appropriate renewable energy options to ensure affordable and reliable energy services to the remote areas.
Bangladesh has already implemented an aggressive adoption of residential solar rooftops, having possibly the most successful distributed solar program globally. The Solar Home System movement needs to continue in a more strengthened capacity.
This movement would contribute in reducing and avoiding the perennial and multi-decade economic drain of fuel costs for thermal power and grid extensions to remote villages of the country.
It can be noted that the Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) had a cumulative loss of $4 billion in last five years. If the government is going to go with its plan to double fossil fuel generation capacity to 24GW by 2021 depending on imported coal, diesel, oil, and liquid natural gas, it can be clearly apprehended that the huge losses of money will continue — along with an environmental disaster.

SDGs and SHS Bangladesh government seems to be highly committed to carry out the Sustainable Development Goals. Its policy and plans show these commitments explicitly. The Prime Minister often shares her vision of making the country poverty free, achieving the commitment of zero hunger, ensuring food security and water for all, and make Bangladesh a “solar country.” In 2015, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina received the United Nations Champion of the Earth award for her “outstanding leadership on the frontline of climate change.” We hope that Sheihk Hasina will be awarded again for her leadership in implementation of SDGs. Achievements, the country made under the leadership of Prime Minsiter Sheikh Hasina, reconstructed people’s confidence upon their capacity and reshaped people’s commitments towards making Bangladesh a Swabolombee nation. Apart from other sectors, movement of Solar Home System (SHS) towards connecting the rural people — especially in hard to reach areas and remote villages — with electricity has been a remarkable successful initiative in line of SDGs. The impacts of SHS program are both immediate and long-term oriented. SHS program contributes to enriching human, social, financial, and physical livelihoods assets of the customers. The most important electricity consumption activities in SHS-owned households are reading, conducting household work under clear light, and mobile phone charging. Watching TV and listening to radio are also important electricity consuming entrainment activities. In some cases, household-heads run small businesses in their households. They use SHS for lighting and running TV which increases selling in the shops. Traditionally, kerosene was the most important application of energy for lighting in rural households of Bangladesh, which was expensive and had health hazards. A significant national benefit of the SHS program is that an estimated 200,000 tonnes per annum of kerosene worth about $180m annually no longer needs to be imported, a change that brings account and currency benefits, and reduces the fiscal deficit required to subsidise kerosene use. Movement for solar Bangladesh It’s high time for energy sector transformation. For this we need to win over two major hurdles: Firstly, changing mindsets. This refers to no more investments in destructive non-renewable energy sector, but more and more investments in the renewable energy sector. Second is creating movement for a “solar Bangladesh.” For creating the solar Bangladesh movement, the country only needs to invest in the development of technology. We don’t need to invest for the sources of renewable energy — Bangladesh has plenty of that. Adopting a long-term, clear energy strategy to transition the electricity sector toward a significantly larger, more diverse, domestic-based, and lower-emisions-profile generation capacity would build energy security, enhance the country’s international reputation whilst serving to protect the environment and develop industries of the future. Renewable energy, smart grids, and energy efficiency opportunities are increasingly cost competitive and deflationary. For example, it may be mentioned that Sri Lanka, which is on the path towards becoming an internationally competitive middle-income country, has a target to be an “energy self-sufficient” nation by 2030. Their strategy is to increase the share of electricity generation from renewable energy sources from 50% in 2014 to 60% by 2020, and finally to meet the total demand from renewable and other indigenous energy resources by 2030. Bangladesh is also on its way towards being a middle-income country. We have a master plan to invest $129b by 2041 in energy sector. A lion’s share of these investments should be on renewable energy sector, especially on solar energy. If the government goes with a strategic plan of removing subsidy from fossil fuel and invests the saved money in renewable energy then it is expected that the country will be able to attain the goal of “affordable and clean energy” by 2030. The government may also make the SHS program subsidy free through “enabling investment environment’ for the local and foreign investors in renewable energy sector. As renewable energy is already identified as the “Third Revolution” in the business world, foreign investors, especially the Chinese, will find Bangladesh a very potential country to invest. What we need to have at this moment is a “renewable energy-friendly policy.”

Solar-powered irrigation revolutionising Bangladeshi agriculture


Only last year, farmers from the border village of Haibatpur in Jhenaidah had to spend Tk2,000 for irrigating each bigha – one-third of an acre – of land with conventional diesel or electric water pumps every season. But things changed when they used solar-powered water pumps – the costs were cut down by nearly three-fourths.
“I never imagined that I would be able to irrigate without using electric or diesel-run water pumps. The solar-powered irrigation system has cut the production cost down by more than 50%,” Shakhawat Ullah, a farmer in Haibatpur, told the Dhaka Tribune.
Shakhawat says he earns about Tk1 lakh on an average annually from his six-bigha plot by cultivating multiple crops. He expects his earning to go up by 50% this year as the production cost came down, thanks to the new water pumps.
In March, BASE Technologies Ltd, in collaboration with the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), launched Solar Irrigation Project in the village at the cost of Tk20 lakh. It was a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative and part of BASE’s sustainable agricultural development programme.
The 7.5 horsepower solar pump can irrigate 30 bighas. About 100 farmers are reaping direct benefits of the project.
Farmers of Haibatpur Krishi Unnayan Samabay Samity (agricultural development cooperative society) say they hope to have a good harvest in the coming winter, which is practically a dry season in the region.
The solar-powered pump can supply up to 70,000 litres of water every day. It has substantially reduced the total irrigation cost of the farmers from Tk1,000 to less than Tk350 per session.
“With proper expertise, efficient solar irrigation systems can be developed to deliver water to even the most difficult irrigation terrains or locations in the country,” said a senior official of BASE Technologies Ltd.
According to the World Bank, 1,340,000 diesel pumps and 270,000 electric pumps are used for irrigation. Every year, diesel pumps consume one million tons of diesel costing $900 million.
Enamul Karim Pavel, head of renewable energy department of Infrastructure Development Company Ltd (IDCOL), said one of the most feasible forms of renewable energy can be availed through solar-powered irrigation pumps.
Haibatpur agriculture development cooperative society members said diesel-run pumps were cheaper than solar-powered ones, but their operating costs were quite high and depended largely on diesel prices.
“Solar-powered pumps, on the other hand, are relatively expensive but the source of energy is free, and there is no other operating costs except the maintenance,” said Mofijul Haque, president of the cooperative.
Enamul Karim noted that the solar-powered irrigation system had a high potential value in terms of sustainability benefits to agronomy.
“With solar power, we can easily decrease dependency on fossil fuel,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
According to him, about 1.5 million conventional pumps can be replaced by solar pumps. Each solar pump can replace four to five diesel-run pumps and can cover more than 60 bighas of land, he said.
“Using an independent and alternative energy system can be a solution for the farmers as solar power is one of the best climate change adaptation and mitigation measure in agriculture,” he added.